By Vanessa Sheets –
“I’ve had three urinary tract infections (UTIs) this year alone! It seems like once I hit menopause, they just keep coming back. What’s going on?”
It’s true- once a woman hits menopause, changes in the healthy mix of “good bacteria” in the vagina can occur, leading to a decrease in lactobacilli. “This predisposes women to UTIs,” says Dr. Maria Sophocles, Gynecologist and Sexual Medicine specialist in Princeton, New Jersey.
“Additionally, pelvic organ prolapse alters normal anatomy and can lead to incomplete bladder emptying. Leaving urine behind after voiding leaves a home for pathogenic bacteria to grow,” explains Dr. Sophocles. “Urinary or fecal incontinence is also linked to higher rates of UTIs since there is more harmful bacteria which can colonize in the bladder. Lastly, older patients can have less robust immune systems to fight off infection.”
As if symptoms of menopause weren’t challenging enough, women over 50 are more likely to experience the tell-tale signs of a UTI: a burning sensation while urinating, an inability to completely empty the bladder, pelvic pain, cloudy or red-colored urine, and a strong, persistent urge to urinate.
“Approximately 20-30 percent of women with a UTI will have a reoccurrence,” says Dr. Sophocles. If left untreated, the bacterial infection could spread to the kidneys and ureters and lead to a condition called pyelonephritis. “Pyelonephritis is an upper urinary tract infection and is much more serious.”
Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce the risk of ever getting another UTI by restoring healthy bacteria and promoting vaginal health. Here’s how:
1. Take probiotics. “Antibiotic use can alter the normal vaginal flora, decreasing healthy bacteria such as lactobacilli, and increasing susceptibility to yeast infections and UTIs,” Dr. Sophocles explains. Probiotics can be as effective as antibiotics in preventing recurrent UTIs and without side effects or risk of developing resistance. Lactobacillus can be given orally but Dr. Sophocles believes intravaginal administration of L. crispatus is most effective. She also recommends RepHresh Pro-B feminine probiotic formula to promote vaginal health and balance bacteria and yeast daily.
2. Reconsider certain contraceptives. Dr. Sophocles recommends eliminating use of diaphragms and spermicides, as both can increase risk of developing UTIs.
3. Drink more fluids. Flush away bacteria in the urinary tract that can cause an infection. While most health practitioners recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces of water, check with your physician about how much fluid you should aim to drink daily.
4. Load up on cranberries and blueberries. While cranberry juice has not been shown to have significant effects on UTI reduction, both cranberries and blueberries can inhibit the attachment of bacteria to the bladder wall. “My mother, Annette, aged 71, has relied on non-antibiotic resources such as cranberry tablets and probiotics since she has allergies to many antibiotics and suffered a rare but dangerous side effect when her doctor gave her a quinolone antibiotic for a sinus infection,” says Dr. Sophocles.
5. Eat the rainbow. Antioxidant-rich foods can prevent bacterial growth, researchers reported in a study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (June 2015).
6. Fill up on fiber. Because constipation is linked to urinary tract infections, fiber-rich foods like beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables may help reduce your risk.
7. Eliminate irritants. Coffee, tea, and chocolate can all irritate the bladder, thanks to their caffeine content. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, causing you to produce more urine and possibly overwhelming- and irritating– the bladder.
While urinary tract infections are unfortunately more common as we get older, the good news is that these low-cost, simple lifestyle changes to boost beneficial bacteria and reduce irritants can help.
Vanessa Sheets is a freelance journalist whose health articles have appeared in print and online magazines and business websites. Visit her website at TheHealthWriter.com.